Shakespeare celebrations kick off in honor of 400th ‘deathiversary’

Elliott Puckette, Arts Editor

Shakespeare’s getting a lot of good press this year. It’s the 400th anniversary of his death (April 23, 1616, for those who don’t care to count), so everyone, from the Folger Library to the UW to myriad theaters big and small across the world.

The first big event of the year in Wisconsin is April 20, where the Young Shakespeare Players, the American Players Theatre, and actress Anna Deavere Smith will be performing and speaking about Shakespeare’s work and its production.

The event will be held at various Memorial Union locations between 4-8:30pm and is free to everyone.

In the same week the Madison Children’s Museum will be hosting “Adult Swimeth: Shakespeare Edition” on April 22 from 6-10pm. The 21+ event will feature pop-up performances by the Madison Shakespeare Company, music by the Madison Early Music Festival, as well opportunities to make Elizabeth crafts, play with the museum exhibits.

The event is $12.75 if you order tickets in advance, or $15 day-of. For a little extra you can eat pizza and beer (or mead) from Roman Candle Pizzeria and get a custom screenprinted t-shirt using the Shakespeare Insult Generator.

American Players Theatre will be hosting its own celebration of the Bard in Spring Green. Their “Vigil in the Woods” is a 24-hour event from 7am April 23 to 7am April 24. During this time anyone can come and perform some Shakespeare on their main stage. Several copies of the complete works will be provided for general use, so no memorization, or even preparation, is required.

There will be performances from numerous organizations, including the aforementioned Young Shakespeare Players and Madison Shakespeare Company, as well as performances from many of APT’s esteemed core company actors. Production Manager Michael Broh intends to lead a round of tavern songs a little after midnight, to keep the good times going as the loyal revelers push through the early hours.

The many events taking place this year are being carefully tracked by the University of Wisconsin on their website Shakespeare in Wisconsin ( The biggest event, taking place in November, will be the First Folio exhibit at Chazen Museum of Art.

A “first folio” is one of the original printed editions of Shakespeare’s complete works. 750 copies were printed in 1623, only 233 still survive, 82 of which belong to the Folger Library in Washington D.C. The Folger Library, in honor of the year, is sending copies of the Folio to all 50 states, including Wisconsin, where the Chazen Museum is collaborating with UW-Madison for the exhibition.

The plethora of events taking place this year, and especially this week, showcase how beloved the playwright still is 400 years after he strutted his hour on the stage. He, contrary to what his character Macbeth claims, was certainly not “heard no more.”

A question that is being asked all over the world is why the words of Shakespeare have survived as they have. Many people – scholars, directors, performers, enthusiasts – will try to answer that question. I have never been satisfied by the answers I have heard, but then, if we knew the answer, we might not be coming together to create all of these events celebrating the question.